Jessica’s Outrage
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

I felt like that proverbial fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread. Or so it would appear, the way I succumbed to TV- channel requests when they chased me in their quest for a scapegoat on the idiot box to point a finger at and badger. This, in the context of the Jessica Lall case, in which Delhi Judge Bhayana acquitted all nine accused despite it being “an open and shut case”.

I asked Barka of NDTV, and some others, “Why so?” Why not one of those still in the chair to face the music and answer for the establishment? Why should ‘has-been’s totally unconnected with the case be tapped! She candidly told me they tried hard – no one’s willing, at least on camera. And Sagarika of CNN-IBN unabashedly told me the hot seat’s mine, period! There is countrywide outrage over the ‘acquittal’ and someone needs to respond to the million questions that are being asked. So it’s my lot to oblige – and I do this with a sense of purpose – if merely to scratch the surface of the morass of muck and issues involved what’re crying to be exposed, in the hope of future cure.

To recapitulate, ramp model Jessica helping out at a Bar in a posh restaurant was shot dead in 1999 at point blank range for not serving liquor after closing time. This, in full view of guests at hosts Ramanis’ Tamarind Court in Delhi’s Mehrauli area. Most media reports put the numbers present at over a hundred, anchor Barka mentioned 400, while editor Vir Sanghvi fixed it at 600.

Police investigators nailed the guilt on Manu Sharma and Vikas Yadav – both, sons of prominent politicians – and seven others, eventually to file a charge-sheet against them in court for trial. Seven years later all these walk free, with the judge labelling investigations not up to the mark, and accusing police of attempting from the very beginning to ‘frame’ prime suspect Manu Sharma by ‘padding’ evidence and introducing ‘false witnesses’.

Every one – young and old, rich and poor, the weak and powerful – is shocked; in a momentum collectively peaking to a level of mass hysteria fanned in no small measure by the media, crying “Justice for Jessica”. So the blame game starts, for heads to roll. What is at stake though is the sidetracking of crucial issues for identifying lapses in the system, to effect urgent reforms warranted.

In the aftermath of public anger the High Court in suo motu intervention directs Delhi Police Commissioner to report within four weeks the circumstances how all accused got away scot-free, even as revelations emerge that the case was under intense scrutiny of the very HC for over a year after 1999. In first reaction to the outcry, prime investigator Inspr Surender Sharma gets ‘shunted’ to the ‘Security’ wing, and Delhi Police orders a vigilance enquiry into the investigations – midst more information emerging on who manipulated the ballistic samples and where. The Home Ministry not to be left out wakes up to call for a report.

Simultaneously comes news of elevation to the High Court of Judge Bhayana – the orders ironically coming just days after this judgement, giving effect to a decision perhaps taken earlier on file. Apart from raising eyebrows, this triggers a protest from lawyer Ashok Arora alleging extraneous considerations for not convicting in the case despite there being sufficient circumstantial evidence for a positive verdict. There are unsavoury insinuations too over the supposed fact of the judge and Manu Sharma’s powerful minister father hailing from the same place in Haryana. The lawyer’s petition for holding the promotion in abeyance is thrown out by the Supreme Court at the first hearing.

There are strange and uncanny parallels between the infamous Tandoor murder (TM) and the Jessica case (JC). To mention just two: Like the CFSL report in JC has driven a spoke into the police one-weapon theory, there was the post-mortem report in TM that specifically ruled out use of a firearm even when the scene of murder indicated killing by use of revolver or pistol. We were constrained then to challenge the post-mortem report, get a medical board constituted to conduct a second PM, during which were recovered two bullet-leads from the charred torso of the victim. In a second parallel which appears a bit more sinister, the Judge who granted Sushil Sharma (accused in the TM) anticipatory bail in Chennai, did so also just before he himself was to go on promotion to the Tamil Nadu High Court. The ultimate outcome of which may interest the powers-that-be now going into the circumstances in the Jessica case.

Everyone has talked of shoddy investigation – I am sure the police have lots to answer. But let not the cobwebs in our minds that tend to conveniently latch on only to the ever available ‘whipping-boy’ cloud our thinking to negate the all pervasive rot spread across the entire criminal justice administration system. Not only the police, but also the prosecution wing, the judiciary, the jail administration, and the invariably forgotten citizen. For much as we all want a criminal convicted, no citizen is willing to depose as a witness, unless in self interest involving one’s own. And because of ineffective perjury laws, a witness turning hostile or telling lies has become the rule in case after case.

The virus that is defying cure revolves round police reforms. Police laws are archaic 150 years old crying for fresh enactment. Findings of Commissions continue to remain on Home Ministry’s shelves, including the pertinent 168 recommendations of the Malimath Committee on reforms in the CJAS. It is time for the very Supreme Court that created history by ordering re-trial in the Best Bakery case, to accord priority to the police reforms petition of policeman Prakash Singh languishing before it without a single material hearing for the past over eight years.

Feb 27, 2006: 950 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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